— Founder & President
Curling up on the cold, marble floor of the crowded Wenzhou International Airport in Zhejiang Province, China, I felt an intensive cramp around my lower ribs. Sharp, searing pain radiated from my midsection, and my breathing became heavily labored. My dad had just kicked me in my stomach.
I crumpled to the ground as my vision blurred. Lying there, surrounded by people eating, talking, and laughing, I felt worlds away from everyone.
He kicked me a few more times, yelling, “I don’t love you! Everything you own is given by me. And all that belongs to your brother anyway. You want money? You can be a prostitute.”
I was nine years old.
At thirteen, he sent me to the United States for school. Unlike most Chinese parents, he wasn’t interested in providing me a better pathway for my education and personal growth; rather, his intention was for me to stay away from hisfamily. Despite this, I still craved his love desperately, resulting in countless attempted phone calls and hang-ups. He even blocked me on WeChat. Though not houseless, I was, indeed, homeless.
My feelings of homesickness were soon joined by helplessness as I navigated living in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. I was isolated socially. Ants invaded my house, as I didn’t know how to do housework, do laundry, or buy groceries to feed myself. I felt like I was drowning in a sea into which I had been pushed against my will.
I looked for companionship in art, where my inner voice could comfort me. After some time, I started finding my confidence in making art, which I did to fill the lonely spaces. When drawing in the style of realism, every detail matters. After hours of picking the right butterscotch yellow and sharpening the colored pencil to its finest point to get that single dot next to the man’s eyebrow just right, I began to feel powerful. I felt like I had control over the papers and canvases in front of me, and that soon transformed into confidence in all corners of my life.
I began excelling academically. While I’m now the kid who argues for extra AP classes and seeks out leadership opportunities like student government president, a few years ago I still felt fake at my most fundamental level.
I felt fake because I hid the fact that I lived alone illegally. I felt fake speaking English. I felt fake for hiding my lonely, insecure, heartbroken, and unloved self.
I questioned why my dad told me that everything I owned belonged to my brother and told me to pursue sex work for money. I wondered why my mom hung up on me to make my brother’s breakfast when I desperately needed to talk. I pieced together the evidence right in front of me.
Then, my eureka moment: it’s because I’m a woman.
This feeling was confirmed by my family, who unabashedly discuss their preference for males in the family. And I’m not alone. Gender discrimination happens worldwide. Women globally face significant issues like unequal pay, lack of education access and job opportunities, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The experience of being physically and emotionally abused by my parents is fuel for me. Whether it is starting my non-profit, Chang-E Project to break down gender-based stigmas and discrimination, making feminist artwork for social media, engaging in cross-cultural dialogues, or writing my book “YES, I AM A FEMINIST”to educate young students on gender-issues, I have found my voice. I am actively looking for every opportunity to empower Asian and American youth to step out of the dominant culture to uplift our silenced voices.
I no longer need validation from my family. I have grown into an independent, self-reliant, and self-loved person. I am not fake.
I am real.
And I am a feminist.